Friday, August 17, 2012
Woke at 7:30am. It is sunny. I don’t know if it rained last night or not. All I know is that I am loving this weather! We must go to Café Mozart one last time for coffee and pastries. We are spoiled rotten here.
What did we think of our time in Vienna?
- We love Vienna!!! It was perfect! The weather, food, beer, music, and crowds were great!
- WiFi everywhere!
- I didn’t meet a single biting insect!
We arrive at the train station a good 20 minutes before the train is to depart for Prague at 9:33am. There are a lot of people here but the crowd is orderly. When the train pulls up, we find our car and find our seats – two comfy seat facing each other with a cute table between us. There is some initial confusion with some fellow travelers finding themselves in the wrong car, but it all gets sorted out fairly quickly and without injury. My DH says, “I am so glad we reserved seats! We are so smart to have reserved seats!” Of course, he is right.
The only problem with this train is that some travelers have HUGE suitcases and there is no really place to put them. My DH and I have small suitcases that fit well the small space behind and between seats. But some of these suitcase are the size of small cars and are just as heavy. My DH helps an older couple hoist their bags into the overhead shelves. They step back and look at the bags with the look of “Gee, I hope these won’t fall on your head and kill you.”
The train leaves on time. As it pulls out of the station and gains speed, there is a loud thud behind me and a communal gasp of passengers in seats ahead of me. A mini-car suitcase has fallen from the shelf and into the aisle! By the time I turn around, the owner of the suitcase (a large, tall man) is lifting the suitcase up and into the shelf again. When I face forward in my seat, I see other passengers checking and adjusting their luggage too.
The train is a smooth ride and working on my blog is a dream with the availability of an electrical outlet to keep my battery charged. My DH settles in by writing in his journal. We notice that the land is very flat as we leave Austria into Hungary Our final destination is Prague in the Czech Republic. It will take about 5 hours.
We arrive in Prague 15 minutes late! Since we have been in Europe, this is our first late train. I don’t know why we are late but we did have a couple of very long stops in a couple of very sad little stations along the way. Hungary and the Czech Republic used to be under the Soviet communist rule which explains all the sad little towns here.
Our hotel, Hotel Josef, had arranged for a taxi driver to meet us at the station. All we needed to do was get off the train and look for the Burger King somewhere in the station. For the first time while in Europe, we truly do not understand the train station signs! We might as well be in China for as much sense the Czech language makes to us. We stand on the train platform for a moment just looking around for some indication as to what we should do next and where we should go. Then my DH has a idea – “Let’s just follow the crowd.” It was brilliant – we followed the crowd down the escalators (escalators in Prague – really?) and through the tunnel and right into Burger King where a nice gentleman held a sign with our name printed on it. As we ride in the cab to our hotel, my DH says “This must be how the big shots arrive in a city!”
My DH and I were last in Prague in September of 2002 as part of a two-week tour of Eastern Europe. At that time, the iron curtain had just fallen a few years earlier when the Soviet Union ran out of money and basically devolved before the eyes of the world. What the Soviets called Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic. In 2002, Prague was struggling to build a tourism industry after a bad flood. Boy, have things changed! Prague appears to be fully alive and well!
The Hotel Josef is nice! My DH chose this hotel. He thought it was be nice to spend that last month of our trip in “nicer” hotels and I am glad that I married such a smart guy. Actually, it was in Prague on September 18, 2002 when my DH proposed to me on the Charles Bridge — I just had to work that into the story somehow.
Once we were settled into the hotel, we went out to (1) get money, (2) go to the tourist office, and (3) get something to eat.
The Czech Republic is not part of the European Union and thus have their own currency. Czech currency is in crowns. When I first saw the 45 czk price of a cup of coffee at a cafe I was shocked! But the crown exchanges at the rate of 20 to each US dollar, so that cup of coffee was actually about $2.25, not too bad.
We found an ATM and got cash without a problem. Next, we walked the couple of blocks over cobblestone streets to the Tourist Information Office right off the main town square. As you enter the main square, it unfolds before you like an opening flower – there is something beautiful on every corner and every side! Here are some pictures:
When we find the tourist office, the street is filled with people looking at a clock on a tower. It was two minutes to 4pm and it is about to strike the hour. “I remember this!” my DH says! When the clock strikes the hour, statues of the saints come out and turn on the platform, a golden chicken crows, and a skeleton at the bottom pulls on a chain that strikes the bell. It is quite the show and lasts for only a minute as camera shutters click by the hundreds! When the performance is over, the crowd disperses and we face the Tourist Information office.
At the Tourist Information office, we meet the tourist agent. This can’t be an easy job. Facing a stream of clueless tourist who don’t speak your language asking you the same questions over, and over, and over — it must be maddening! It is no surprise that she looks tired and bitter. She barely looks at us and answer questions we haven’t even asked her yet. Her big piece of information was “the church closes at 5pm.” OK – I guess we are seeing the church.
The church – we didn’t see it when we first entered the square. Than I turned around and there it was — looming like a spiky giant! Its name is The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn — no, really! Here is a picture of it:
Next – food! We haven’t eaten since 9am and I am starving. The square offers lots of dining options. The good news is that the menus are in English. The bad news is that they are touristy eateries. It seems to be an international understanding that tourists do not know good food so why bother offering it to them. Well, that might be true for some tourists, but for my DH and me — we will take the time to find good food! My DH pulls outh is iPod and looks for an internet connection. He finds one and consults TripAdvisor as I am about ready to eat my arm. He finds a restaurant that got four stars and is only a few yards away from where we stand! Better yet, it is a cave — should be cool there!
The restaurant, U Zlate Konvice, is a cave. It is dark and cool with various stuffed animals. The path to the dining room is lined with mounted dear heads, their antlers projecting into the narrow hallway above your head like a bony canopy. The dining room has heavy wooden tables and chairs. There are bear and boar skins mounted on the wall — it is very manly. We are seated and we order a half liter of beer to share. We look over the menu – there is an English translation!
According to TripAdvisor, the dish to get here is the Roasted Pig Knee served with pickled onions. It is billed as the entree for two or for “one big eater” – we order that. My DH also orders a bowl of the Beef Vegetable soup, I order the pickled cheese. Both dishes were very good – made even better by the bread basket of dark rye bread and rolls with the texture of a thick pretzel. Here are some pictures:
The Roasted Pig Knee – huge and so good! For a joint, it is larger than I expected and actually had a lot of perfectly roasted meat covered in a salty, crispy skin. We hack at it with our forks and knives like a couple of mountain people. The Roasted Potatoes and their crispy onions were a wonderful match to the pork. This is Slavic cooking at its best! The meal would have been really enjoyable if it were not for a large group of Asian tourists seated around us. The lady sitting behind my DH yelled in his ear has she yelled to the other Asian group seated behind us. They were a loud group of people who eventually migrated to a single groups of tables. Still, there was no need for them to be that loud. We paid our bill and left — the waiter understood why we did not linger.
We decided to walk off some of that Pig’s Knee by taking a quick stroll through the older part of the city. We walked to the river and found ourselves back on the Charles Bridge, almost 10 years to the day when my DH proposed to me. We found the spot on the bridge and asked a stranger to take our picture – it is not a very good picture but hey, not everyone is a photographer.
As we walked back to our hotel, we strolled through the Jewish Quarter and past some of the oldest synagogues in Europe. The sun was setting but the light was great – here are some pictures:
Around 7pm, we went back to our hotel to check emails and rest. Around 9pm, we went out again to see Prague at night. It was amazingly busy with people of all ages and nationalities dining or strolling in the warm evening. There were clumps of young men and clumps of young women everywhere – except together. Why is that? We walked and walked and walked down busy streets lit up with neon and gas lanterns. Yep, Prague is a happening commercial city these days. We will see more of it tomorrow after a good night’s rest in our comfy hotel with air conditioning!
Quote of the Day #1: “I don’t know! It starts with a ‘U’!” — Anna regarding the name of the restaurant.
Quote of the Day #2: “Czech please!” — DH